Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Vocation Questions

By Sr. Alice Ann O'Neill

A senior from Bishop Alter High School in Dayton, Ohio, recently emailed me several questions regarding my vocation story. I thought I would share her questions and my responses in case anyone reading our Future of Charity blog has any of these same questions knocking around inside.

1.       When did you first feel and accept your vocational call?
2.       How did you choose your religious order of Sisters of Charity?

I first felt drawn to become a sister when I was 16 or 17 years old. I attended a teen encounter retreat and fell in love with God. I wrote a letter to the Sisters of Charity in my hometown in eastern Canada. These sisters taught me the rosary and how to pray and were very kind to me. When I was 18 and graduating high school, I told my parents I wanted to join their community and my parents said I could not join the Sisters of Charity because I had to go to university. My parents told me that once I grew up, I would see that I would be happier being married and having children. I did not agree with my parents and did not feel like I wanted to get married ever, however, I do like children a great deal so I wasn’t sure if my parents were correct. So I went to university and then travelled all over the world playing the cello and became a Suzuki cello teacher too. One morning during mass, when I was 30, I was praying and asked God to help me decide what specific subject I should study in graduate school at Ohio State in Columbus. I wanted so badly to know who I really should become and so I sincerely said to God that I promised I would follow what God wanted me to be and I suddenly heard a voice behind me say, “be a sister.” I became very afraid after I heard this but I promised God so I started discerning religious life. I have since come to understand that I really need to do things that make me afraid because when good things scare you, it means you should look into this more deeply and see what this means for you. Following your heart, even if it is scary, can lead you to beautiful, wonderful things that you could never have believed possible.

I attended a discernment retreat sponsored by the Catholic diocese of Columbus, Ohio, and found out about the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. I tried to look at joining the Sisters of Charity in my hometown in Canada because I thought that would make sense but God wanted me to be with the Sisters of Charity in Cincinnati and God made this very clear to me over a period of 2 years. I listened to what I felt God was saying to me even though it didn’t seem to make sense to me at the time and I have found my home and my family and so much joy with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. 

3.       What is the best and hardest thing about being in a religious order?

The best thing about being a sister is that I am surrounded by so many sisters and people with whom I minister that share my values. In a world where Catholic Gospel values and faith are not seemingly important, I am always free to share my faith with others and live by moral values that are important to me. Help with prayer is supported by where I live and how my priorities in life are organized. Having a community of like-minded and like-hearted people makes life easier and more joyful. Jesus surrounded himself with a community of friends and I feel like that is how I live my life too.

The worst thing about being a sister is how people judge me. People think because I am a sister I am holier than they are. We are all broken and on a journey toward wholeness in many different ways. I am human on a journey towards holiness just like people with other vocations in life. Another way I feel I am wrongly judged is that people think I am going to judge them because they are not Catholic etc. I try not to judge anyone because I don’t like to be wrongly judged. Also, Pope Francis said, “who I am to judge?” It is not for me to judge others either but simply to love others as I would want to be loved too. I try to be open and kind to everyone and usually kindness is returned to me.

4.       What is the process for becoming a holy religious?

For the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, this is the process of becoming a sister

Pre-Entrance - a period when you can come to visit with our sisters, ask lots of questions, and be with us but you are just looking into this and discerning whether our community could be your family where you belong. This section can last from 6 months to 2 years. I lived in my apartment in Columbus during this period and I visited the community often.

Affiliation or Entrance - a period when you think you belong to our family and you would like to make a commitment to praying and discerning your call to religious life and our community. This period can last 1 to 2 years. This is normally when people live in one of our houses to see how they like living our life and praying.

Novitiate - during this time, everyone studies full-time and does volunteer ministry. I studied church history, the history of religious life, prayer, Catholicism, and the history of my community. Also, a lot of time is spent studying the vows. This is what first year novices do but the second year of my novitiate, I got a full-time job teaching music at the University of Dayton. Praying is VERY important during any of these periods of formation.

Temporary Profession - I professed temporary vows in 2006 for a period of 2 years and then renewed my vows for 1 year. The final year of temporary vows, I studied the vows again and went on retreats and was discerning whether to profess my vows for life.

Final Profession - I professed my final vows in 2009. This profession is a lifetime commitment. I have never been happier than after I professed my final vows. I could only have professed my final vows knowing that I am a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati and I want to be for the rest of my life.

5.       What advice do you have for young people concerning vocational calls?

PRAY. Praying is the answer to any question about who you are and where you should go and what you should be doing. If you get in the habit of praying, then prayer can help you through anything and everything in life. Attending Mass is praying too. God is always there for us…waiting for us to turn and listen. God speaks very clearly if you listen and are sincerely open and pray. Also, I would say to young women…I wish I had become a sister even sooner. It is a wonderful life - very fulfilling and blessed. I have never been happier than my 12 years as a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati. I would say to young men, please consider becoming a priest because God and God’s people need you.

Peace and Blessings on your journey!
Alice Ann ONeill, SC

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful and so very thoughtful response. Even though I have been close (in spirit) to your journey, I never had the full understanding and depth of the calling you felt.
    You've always been such a blessed presence in my life and so many others. I'm so happy, and blessed, to truly understand your devotion.

    You're quite an inspiration. Even though you're a Canuch. ;-)


Thanks for your comment! Once our admin it approves it, you will see it posted.